[Editor's Note: This story was excerpted from Lee's book, Protecting Your Financial Future]
Kristy and I were high school sweethearts. We waited a long time,or at least it seemed like forever, until we got married. We waited to get married until a few days after I turned 20, so that we wouldn't both be teenagers.
I had a scholarship and our parents helped us, so I could stay in school. Yes, we were poor. We lived in basement apartments, worked odd hours, ate stuff we wouldn't think of eating now, and didn't even know we got married in the middle of a huge recession.We just knew things were tough, and we didn't have a lot of money. The baby slept in a dresser drawer, and we drove a Volkswagen. We saved our pennies so we could buy a house some day.
After five years of college, I graduated with a bachelor's degree in geology. I had worked a couple of summers for the oil companies and decided geology, although a great topic to study, wasn't a very good way to make a living. Geologists are always out in the field looking at rocks, and I wanted to be home with my wife and son. So I applied to enter a master's degree program in chemistry. Having had a total of only one undergraduate chemistry course, I was miraculously accepted into the master's program, and they even gave me a scholarship. Ultimately, I took a path that led me to a master's degree in nuclear analytical chemistry.
Halfway through the master's program, I decided that law school looked good. With all of my science training and a law degree, I could become an oil and gas attorney, practice environmental law or be a patent attorney. Even if I didn't practice law as an attorney, I could do a better job running the little analytical chemistry laboratory business I had established with one of the chemistry professors.
I took the LSAT (the get-into-law school test) on a whim, and nobody was more shocked than I was when I passed the test. Actually, I didn't just pass the test, I killed the test. I was accepted at every prestigious law school I applied to. (Yes, I only applied to one, Brigham Young University.) The only problem was, I was only half way through the master's degree program in chemistry.
When I went to the first day of law school, the dean made the students swear they would spend all their time studying for law school, wouldn't work any outside jobs, would never see their families, would be scared to death of the law professors, and wouldn't even think of anything but the law during their first year. I said yes. I lied. I was a full-time chemistry master's student in addition to being a full-time law student.
When I went to law school, my father-in-law came unglued. He was positive that I had no intention of ever getting out of school and supporting his daughter and our then two children. The evidence definitely was in his favor.
My master's thesis was ultimately recognized as the most outstanding piece of science work in a master's program at the university that year. No, I didn't make law review. That means I was not in the top 10% of my law class, but I was hanging in there with the bottom 90% of the class.
Graduation day came in chemistry and then later in law. I was so happy to graduate from law school. Law school was such a miserable experience that it totally cured me of all desires I might have had to ever take another college class. So many of the law students were arrogant and deceitful. A lot of the teachers in law school didn't teach law. They played this game where you tried to guess the answer to their question. The problem is, there wasn't any one right answer to the question, and they never even told you what answer they were thinking about. Lawyers call this game "logic."
Things in science are logical. Science is great. You can figure out the answer by using logic. You can then prove that the answer is correct on paper or you can physically do an experiment to see if the answer is correct. In law, everything is run on what I call the "Lunch Theory of Justice." The answer to a question in law depends upon what the judge eats for lunch.
After law school I got a job as a patent attorney. It was a good job. Patent attorneys make about 1.5 times as much money as the other attorneys. I was actually making money. This was great. A year earlier we had finally saved enough money for a down payment on a house, and with our parents' help as co-signers on the loan, we bought a little house in the nice part of town. One day driving to work, I remember thinking that life was too easy after school. I thought, "OK, life can't be this easy. When is the other shoe going to drop - something has to go wrong." My patent attorney career lasted less than 90 days, and ten long hard years of college education became meaningless one winter morning.
It was mid-January 1982, and I had been sick since at least Thanksgiving. I had gotten progressively sicker for months. My back was killing me all of the time. I was sure I had blown a disk doing yard work in the fall. Every morning I would almost throw up because I was nauseated. Even though I was always sick to my stomach, I was still eating lots. I was eating everything in sight, yet losing weight. I was honestly convinced I was feeding a giant tape worm or something. I had lost 15 pounds. No, don't laugh. I had weighed 123 pounds (5'9" tall) for the prior 8 years. Not 125 or 120, the weight was 123 pounds, and I was now at 108. Simple tasks like taking out the garbage became major chores.
I would go to work, come home, and collapse on the couch.
Kristy started accusing me of being lazy. I didn't know what to think. Surely it was just that I wasn't exercising enough; if I exercised I would have more energy. Maybe all I needed was more vitamins or something.
One Sunday night, I was having chest pains. Kristy called our good friends Mary and Leland. Leland was one of the local cardiologists. We lived up on a hill in town and in the two blocks around our house lived 38 medical doctors; so they called the hill "Pill Hill." Kristy explained the situation to Mary, and I was immediately invited to come over so that Leland could check things out.
Leland got me on the couch in his study, and he listened, thumbed, poked, jabbed and did other scientific medical procedures. He spent over a half hour just asking me questions. He was taking a history. He told me that the history is the most valuable diagnostic tool a doctor has in his bag of tricks.
On the way out down the big entry hall, Leland stopped me, and I remember very plainly that he said, "You know, Lee, anytime someone has a serious health problem and he is hospitalized, if he can recover his health and live any type of a normal life, he is extremely blessed." I didn't think too much about the statement, because it surely didn't apply to me. I wasn't having a heart attack. Leland had just told me I wasn't having a heart attack. He told me all of my health problems were related to one source. He insisted that I not even make an appointment, but just show up at the urologists' office at 8:00 a.m. the next day, tell them there was an emergency, and I had to be seen. A year later, Mary related to Kristy that my friend Leland went into the bedroom and cried after I left their home that night.
I followed Leland's instructions and showed up in the urologists' office at 8:00 a.m. The urologists made me wait until about 11:30 a.m. before they would see me. The urology clinic had been treating me for almost a year. They said I had an infection that was very stubborn. Three of the urologists poked me, laughed at me, said I was a hypochondriac and chided me saying that if I was having chest pains, I was sure dumb to come to a urology clinic. They impatiently counseled me to rush to my cardiology friend and have him treat me.
I drove to Leland's office and his secretary got him on the phone at the hospital. I related my experiences of the morning, and he simply said, "I will reserve a bed for you at the hospital. You check yourself in before 9:00 p.m. tonight, and I will run some tests tomorrow."
The next day I was strapped on the x-ray machine. Kristy was in the control room with all of the radiologists. Five of them lived by us, and they were good friends. I noticed that they took Kristy out of the room. The tests continued. The radioactive dyes made me throw up. By 10:00 a.m. it was established that one kidney was totally nonfunctional, and the other was barely functioning. This was a urology problem.
By noon I was totally radioactive. I glowed in the dark. I had been poked from every end and in the middle. I was vomiting. Leland was at my bedside. He told me that I had a tumor around my left kidney - a huge tumor that x-rays showed to be nearly 8 inches in diameter. It was so big that it was crowding my heart, and my heart was having a hard time.
My immediate response was, "Well, can they take it out?"
Leland explained that I had cancer - very advanced cancer! The cancer was everywhere. My back hurt because of the tumors on my spine. My stomach wasn't working because the cancer was making me sick. The cancer was in its final stage. There was no way to surgically remove it from my body. The consensus was that I would die, maybe within two weeks, or I might last up to three months.
That kind of news ruins your whole day!
I was only 27 years old. Although we had never had a lot of money, my marriage was a fairy tale romance. We had three small children that would now grow up without a father. This couldn't be happening. There must be a mistake. But there was no mistake.
A year earlier, my family doctor had diagnosed a lump I had found as cancer. He had sent me to the urology specialist because he suspected that I had testicular cancer. The family doctor had advised the urologist of his diagnosis. The urologist didn't take a history, didn't run a test, didn't do anything but make fun of me and the family doctor, because I obviously had an infection in my epididymis, not testicular cancer. All he would have had to do was give me a simple blood test, and he would have found the cancer. He did nothing. I saw him several times before I saw Leland. Each time, he laughingly told me all was well, and he did nothing. [Ed: A blood test might have indicated cancer, but an ultrasound would have been the best approach.]
I trusted the urologist. I blindly trusted, and as it appeared, it had obviously cost me my life.
If I had only known all the urologist had to do to detect my type of cancer was poke my finger and give me a blood test, I would have said "Hey, come on, doc. Here's my finger. Let's go. Check it out!" But I had just trusted him.
I told Leland that I didn't trust the urologists any more, and I asked if he could help me. Leland saved my life. He saw to it that my treatment was conducted at a university hospital [University of Utah] and that each research team around the nation that specialized in testicular cancer [Indiana University and others] had input into my treatment. Testicular cancer was then,and probably still is, the leading cause of cancer death in males ages 20 to 40 years. It is relatively easy to treat, but not in an extremely advanced stage like mine was. My case became a national cause, as it were, in cancer treatment.
I wasn't just sick. This was a major battle - the kind of battle the doctors still talk about a decade later. There were 53 treating doctors and what seemed like hundreds of consulting doctors across the United States. The treatment was wicked. Twenty percent of the people they had tried it on died from the treatment. Chemotherapy is bad, but this wasn't your normal chemotherapy.
During the first five months of treatment, I was continuously at the university hospital. I never even knew winter and spring had come and gone. The first six weeks I was basically in a coma. At times I was blind. Between the cancer and the chemotherapy, my body had given up and pretty much totally shut down, but I wasn't ready to die. The pain associated with massive body organ failure is extreme. My daily morphine dose was almost double what the handbooks state is a lethal dose for a healthy body. Special drugs were flown across the country in the middle of the night. State of the art technology was used to keep me alive. On several occasions Kristy was called to the hospital to say good-bye for the final time.
When I was released, nearly 6 months later, to the care of my home town hospital, the home town technicians at the hospital had no idea what some of the equipment poking out of my body [an IV central line] was even supposed to do.
You have probably read about people who have such great willpower and desire that they run marathons while they are on chemotherapy. Willpower and desire may have something to do with their ability to run a marathon, but their abilities mostly depend upon the types and doses of chemotherapy they are given. When I got through with chemotherapy, I was an 80 pound pile of bones that lay motionless in the fetal position. I wasn't running anywhere. I couldn't even walk.
The complete story of my ordeal and the ordeal that my family went through is another full book or a movie. The medical experience was incredible. The personal love story with Kristy is touching. A majority of spouses faced with what she faced simply divorce. Only one conclusion can be reached. I was very blessed.
I now live a normal life, and it is a good life. But, it is a life so different from the life I had dreamed of living.
As the medical system worked on my body, the legal system worked over my financial life. I had done everything exactly right, but everything went wrong.
The IRS assessed taxes, an obscene amount of taxes, against my little chemistry company. The taxes were assessed for a period beginning a year before I had even founded the business or gone into chemistry. Living in another city where the university hospital was, Kristy naturally missed one of the ten-day notices the IRS sent to our home. One day she wrote a check at the store and the check bounced. She later discovered that the IRS had closed all of our business accounts, had closed all of our personal accounts,and had put a lien on our home. A year and a half later they finally gave everything back, simply stating that they had made a mistake. They paid interest on the money they had wrongfully taken, but because we didn't have any money to operate with, we lost our business. We couldn't fulfill our contracts; so the companies we had contracted with were suing. Kristy had been through hell; but it was OK - the IRS gave the money back. The IRS had no further responsibility.
I was a lawyer. I hadn't done anything wrong. Yet, I was at the mercy of the legal system. I learned the value of a good lawyer.
Unless you know the basics of the law, you are at the mercy of the lawyers, because you don't know whether or not the lawyer is doing a good job for you. This is not a book about how to bash the IRS or lawyers. You are going to learn to use the law - not gray law, but nice black letter law. (That means there is no question in everybody's view that it is 100% legal.) Using the laws, you can control your income taxes, avoid estate taxes, protect against IRS seizures, avoid probate, and avoid other legal disasters of life. All you have to do is know enough law to keep your counselor in check. Use the law. The legal system is the most powerful system we have in America today.
You can't bury your head in the sand and hope that the legal system will leave you alone. The United States is graduating so many lawyers today, that in order to eat, they have to sue anything that moves. If you are dead already, you can stop reading now. If you are alive, you must be moving, and that makes you a prime target for the lawyers.
When I got through being sick and got to the point that I could work again, there was no job. I tried everything I could do to get another job, but with a statistical life expectancy of a year,I wasn't prime meat for law firms or anybody else. The social workers and psychologists who were assigned to work with me compassionately counseled me. After nearly a hundred job rejections, they told me I would have to work for myself.
Epilogue: Lee went on to create a company called LegaLees, a legal publishing and software company. He and his wife have written nine books including one called Protecting Your Financial Future: The Inside Story on Wills, Living Trusts, Probate, Estate Taxes, and Asset Protection. He eventually sued his urologists and won, but only received about $200,000. Lee made a point of structuring the settlement as compensation for pain and suffering, not lost wages, because that type of compensation is not taxable.
Medically speaking, it took Lee 5 or 6 years to completely recover from the effects of his treatment. His treatment was almost as if he had a bone marrow transplant before that procedure became common. He also had enough radiation to his abdomen that hair no longer grows on a large section of his chest. He never did have surgery, though, until this past winter (1997) when they discovered a benign tumor on his spine. It is likely, though not for sure, that the tumor was related to his treatment.